Tom Foxall, Hood House Professor

Hood House Professorship

The Hood House Professorship recognizes academics who exhibit excellence in teaching, research, and mentoring. During a two-year term the Professor engages students in his/her academic area of expertise and mentors academically motivated students.

Meet Hood House Professor, Tom Foxall

Can you speak to some of the interesting research you have participated in with Honors students? Currently, I am working with two Honors students on a project that involves comparing cows fed an organic pasture-based diet vs. cows fed a grain-based diet. Previous studies have shown that people who consume milk and milk products from cows feeding on fresh pasture are drinking a healthier product and this may have beneficial health effects in the long term. However, no one has studied if a specific diet actually has an effect on the health of the cows. My Honors students and I are measuring the levels of cortisol (a hormone produced by the adrenal glands that is an important marker of stress) in milk from cows at the UNH Organic Dairy and the conventional UNH Fairchild Teaching and Research Dairy collected over the course of a year. This is part of a larger project to measure markers of health in the Jersey cows at both dairy facilities. I am also working with a student on her Senior Honors Thesis that investigates the effect of two diabetic conditions, hyperglycemia and dyslipidemia, on wound healing in vitro.

In your opinion, how does the Honors program at UNH prepare Honors students for the future? I believe the Honors program provides students with uniquely challenging learning experiences, in particular advanced scholarly experiences that undergraduate students do not usually engage in. The research experience gained through the Senior Honors thesis is a valuable project that prepares students for graduate research degree programs, schools of human and animal medicine, and employment in science related careers. In addition, the small seminars Honors students enroll in help them to build strong relationships with faculty that enhance their overall academic growth while at UNH.

Do you have any advice to offer our students as they move through college and out into the world? I urge students to take advantage of the many resources available to them during their undergraduate education. Take courses in things that interest you even if they are outside of your major because this may be one of the few times in your life you will have the opportunity to explore so many different subjects with people who are experts in these areas. You also have the chance to pursue areas of personal vs. professional interest. Be exploratory – take advantage of the broad education UNH offers. Spend a lot of time reading; I have found that the students who read more not only expand their knowledge base, but also excel in the classroom and are able to challenge professors with questions that elevate the academic discourse of the seminar or research lab. Engage in active, participatory learning whenever you can through lab research, field research, EcoQuest, IROP, CREAM, SURF, study abroad, and the many other options UNH makes available to students. Most of all develop good relationships with a few professors that you maintain during your undergraduate years and perhaps for years to come. These established relationships motivate and encourage students to get the most out of their education as well as help them to continue to engage with that education post-graduation. They also get to learn how careers develop for faculty and have the advice and feedback from those who have traveled where the students may wish to go.

In what capacities have you worked with Honors students? I mentor and supervise students on independent research projects and senior Honors thesis research projects. In general, I try as much as I can to work with students in a small group research capacity because I believe that although scientific theories, facts and some skills can be well presented in the classroom and formal laboratory exercises, the actual practice of scientific research and the scientific method are best learned by actually engaging in research. The processes of science, such as forming a hypothesis, collecting data, and analyzing that information, become more meaningful and better understood by students in a smaller group working with faculty and graduate students doing original investigations. This is a more realistic experience with science. I have found in my years of teaching that students remember what they have learned from actively engaging in projects versus forgetting the specific facts they memorized for a course. I try to model my teaching on the best science teachers I had when I was a student and avoid those practices that I found less effective in promoting learning. My goal is to connect with my students like my best teachers did with me.

In what ways have Honors students influenced your scholarship? Honors students are high achieving and take initiative when it comes to shaping their academic path. As a result, these students often offer new perspectives and ask unique questions that I find interesting and challenging and that expand my learning when I seek out the answers. Their inquiry stimulates me to broaden my academic interests and learn new concepts inside and outside my field.

What to do you hope to achieve in your role as Hood House professor? As Hood House Professor, I hope to develop a new course specifically for Honors students. I also will be working on outreach projects for connecting with Honors alumni and attempting to improve funding opportunities for the program through working with the UNH Foundation and Sean Moore, the new director of the UNH Honors Program.

 


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